Riva Lehrer, If Body: Riva and Zora in Middle Age, 2007. Collection of Michael and Michelle Minns.

Lauren Berlant: Cruel Optimism

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
The Barnard Center for Research on Women
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Why do we persist in fantasies of “the good life” that threaten to kill us? Why are we often frustrated in our attempts to find relief from precariousness, to attain sweeter forms of collective life, or even, at minimum, to obtain conditions of mere subsistence? What are the politics of desire? These questions are central to the work of Lauren Berlant, one of the foremost thinkers at the intersection of contemporary political theory and affect theory. Probing our ideas and images of the body politic and the functioning of our own, often disappointed or disappointing, desires, Berlant explores how “tender fantasies of the good life” structure our participation in “intimate publics.” Generated and circulated through the market, these aspirations both shield but also frustrate us as we work out “varieties of suffering and fantasies of transcendence; longing for reciprocity with other humans and the world; irrational and rational attachments to the way things are; special styles of ferocity and refusal; and a creative will to survive that attends to everyday situations while imagining conditions of flourishing within and beyond them.” What are the powers of our fantasies – everyday, political, and otherwise?

In this class, students will explore the major texts, questions, and concepts of Berlant’s highly original work with special reference to her theorization of emotion, intimacy, sentimentality, and “cruel optimism,” a particular characteristic of contemporary fantasies of the good life in which “something you desire is also an obstacle to your flourishing.” As we pursue Berlant’s formulation of questions about the relationships between private and public life, political feeling and political forms, gender and desire, dissatisfaction and disappointment, sex and what can be borne, we’ll also engage with her objects of study, which range from the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the poetry of John Ashbery to elements of popular culture traditionally maligned as melodramatic or kitschy. Critical supplements may include the work of Lee Edelman, Heather Love, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Rei Terada.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 11 — December 02, 2019
4 weeks

$315.00

Registration Open

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